Category Archives: Food

Another Great Sunday Dinner

I don’t know what it is about peas, but I’m addicted. Sugar Snap Peas, Shelling Peas, I buy them whenever I see them at a farmers market. Last weekend I made a fantastic Orechiette Carbonara with Peas and Pea Tendrils. This week I decided to try making a ravioli with peas.

I started with a simple pasta dough: 1 1/2 cups of semolina flour, 3/4 cup of 00 flour, 2 eggs, a little olive oil and water enough to get it together. I find that using a wide bowl with a low edge is great for mixing and kneading. I’ve tried making the dough with both my kitchen aid and food processor with mixed results. I find that hand kneading gives you better control over how sticky or dry the dough becomes. Plus there’s less to wash!

Kneading Dough

For the filling, I minced some shallots and sautéed them in olive oil. I added some dry white wine and the peas once they were soft and translucent.

Cooking the shallots & peas

Cooking the peas & shallots

I had some fresh local ricotta from an earlier meal (ricotta with sugar snap peas & olive oil!) but not quite enough, so I walked a nearby store and bought some mascarpone. I whipped the two cheeses together and added the peas once they cooled down. It ended up a bit runnier than I would have liked, but tasted great.

Here is the filling for the ravioli--the pea mixture plus ricotta and mascarpone cheeses

The Filling

Now it was time to roll out the dough into sheets. I was worried about the humidity making the pasta a little too moist, but the texture was perfect. Letting it rest for a while really goes a long way to making great pasta.

Rolling out the dough with an electric roller makes it pretty simple

Rolling out the dough

When rolling out the dough, you start at the widest setting (1) and work your way to thinner, settings 5-8 depending on how thin you want it. I went to 5 since I was filling it. The pasta was beautiful! Look how thin it got! And yes, I took that picture one handed with the other supporting the pasta.

Look how long it is now!

Look how long it is now!

I divided the dough into four pieces, rolled out each one, and then cut them in half, making a top and bottom. I didn’t do a great job of measuring the correct amount of space, but whatever. I spooned out a little of the mixture and wet the dough around it. This is where it would have been nice to have a pasta or some such instrument. Because the pea filling was so runny, I had to make really large ravioli.

I've laid out the filling and am putting on the top layer

Putting together the ravioli

They weren’t exactly uniform in size but they held up as I cooked them in salted boiling water. I minced some garlic, chopped some basil from my front porch and did a quick sauté.

I sauteed some garlic with fresh basil from my porch to top the cooked ravioli

Garlic & Basil sauce

I put a few of the ravioli in a pasta bowl, spooned some of the oil mixture, and at the last minute added some extra of the pea mixture. No meal is complete without a little parmesan in my opinion. The colors looked a little weird, but it tasted fantastic, especially with the salad made from our front porch.

I served the ravioli with the garlic & basil mixture and some shaved parmesan. I had extra peas so I threw those on there too.

Voilà!

Bon Appetit!

You can find more photos of my cooking extravaganza here.

On Making Pasta or The Best Meal I’ve Ever Made

One of my favorite cookbooks is Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques. It’s seasonal and beautiful with menus that often take lots of steps. It’s not something you cook from unless you’ve got time. Meanwhile, I’ve been getting all kinds of fun stuff in my CSA, as well as picking up other things like asparagus and strawberries from the farmers markets around town. While absently flipping through it last week, I spotted a menu that included Orecchiette Carbonara with Peas and Pea Tendrils. For dessert, Crème Fraiche Panna Cotta with Strawberries. Sold! I also had the asparagus and a lot of various lettuces for a simple salad.

I decided to make it more complicated by making my own orechiette pasta by hand. I’ve done pasta before, but mostly ravioli and strand pasta. I’ve never attempted shapes. It turned out to be easier than I thought. It just takes practice of course. I’m not an 80 year old Italian grandmother nor do I have one, so I started from scratch. Here’s a photo:

orechiette.jpg

Do they look like the ones that come in the box? Not really, but they tasted great. First you roll out the dough into a thin snake, then you cut and smoosh. I’m not sure that I perfected it exactly, but I had fun doing it!

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The meal came together splendidly as did several friends, many of whom brought delicious wine and even cookies. Goin’s recipes are pretty fool proof. The carbonara came together. Panna cotta is so easy, I don’t know why I don’t make it all the time. Unfortunately, we were too busy eating to take photos alas, but I’ll go on record saying that it’s the best meal I’ve ever cooked in my life. Now all I want to do is explore pasta making.

Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty

Kung Pao ChickenFuchsia Dunlop has done some pretty great travel and food pieces over the years, so when we got Land of Plenty we did a good deal of oohing and aahing over the pictures and recipes. But it wasn’t until this weekend that we actually cooked anything from it. We’ve finally gotten the range hood installed in our kitchen, so it’s only recently that we have enough ventilation to take full advantage of the big 18,000 BTU burners on the new stove. So, flat-bottomed wok pan in hand, we went to Sichuan.

We figured we’d try the Gong Bao – that is, Kung Pow – chicken and go for a slightly more authentic take on an often-disappointing westernized classic. And to go with it, we’d make a bunch of different veggie sides. We already had the sichuan peppercorn and tsien tsien peppers, and it didn’t take much more to get the ingredients together. We made a special trip to Super 88 in Malden to make sure we had both light and dark soy sauce. We’d already been over to Russo’s in Watertown and grabbed fresh water chestnuts, cauliflower, and chinese broccoli. (It was our first trip to Russo’s, and it was both wonderland and madhouse, exactly as we’d been promised and warned. We wound up with a pint of strawberries, too even though they didn’t go with our theme.)

Fresh water chestnuts were a revelation. I feel almost angry that I’m now going to realize what I’m missing when I eat the canned kind.

Everything turned out very well, and we were pleasantly surprised that the different vegetables we cooked, all from the same basic stir-fry recipe, came out so differently: The thin-sliced potatoes we deglazed with rice vinegar were tangy and gingery; the chinese broccoli played beautifully against the sichuan peppers, the cauliflower browned up well in the wok, and the Gong Bao chicken came out exactly right.

Plus, now that we have that fan, nobody choked when Mr. Bookdwarf started frying the chiles. We even took some (sideways, for some reason) video – and yes, that’s Mr. B dropping cauliflower on the floor, and then eating it.

If the rest of the recipes are as good as the ones we made last night, Fuchsia Dunlop is definitely going to be a frequent presence at our dinner table.

A New Year’s Resolution

It’s 2010 now and my only resolution so far is to try and energize my writing habits. I’ve been a slacker blogger for months. Every time I sit down to write something, it either or sounds stupid or doesn’t come at all. I’m not sure what happened. I love writing this blog and want to keep it going. So my new plan right is to add some food related posts.

My friends all know how much I love to cook. They’ve come to rely on dinners on Sunday nights. I spend hours in the kitchen trying new recipes and improving on old ones. In addition to all of the book blogs I read, I’ve got an equally long list of food related ones. On top of that, I’m a bit of a cookbook whore too. So, writing about what I cook seems like a natural extension of this blog. On to last night’s dinner!

Last week, Mr. Bookdwarf brought home some Macomber turnips, which originate from Westport, Massachusetts funnily enough. I’m used to the ones with the purplish tops about the size of baseballs or smaller. These were huge! I decided to make a turnip gratin with them. I stuck to a basic gratin recipe substituting turnip for potato. I also used Ree Drummond’s (aka The Pioneer Woman) recipe as a guide for assembling and cooking times. I don’t have a mandoline, so I sliced them all by hand. Luckily I got fancy new Shun knives when I got married last Fall. Piece of cake…er, turnip! You add some garlic, some herbs, and lots of gruyère as you layer it up. I popped it into the oven and about 35 minutes later, I had this:

turnip-gratin.jpg

Of course after I had assembled four layers, I was left with almost a whole turnip sliced. What should I do? Turnip chips! But how best to make them? Fry or bake? I decided to try both. I threw some of the turnips in a bowl with olive oil, S&P, and thyme then spread them on a baking sheet. I put them in the oven with the gratin. I took them out when the edges started browning.

baked-turnips.jpg

The rest I tried frying in a little canola oil.

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The baked ones tasted best in my opinion. Mr. Bookdwarf seemed happy with them–hence all the empty spots on the pan! I served it all with an arugula and Parmesan salad dressed with lemon vinaigrette.

arugula-salad.jpg

I’m realizing as I’m writing this post how poor my camera skills are. Hopefully I’ll get better as I practice. And that ladies and gentlemen is my first food post of 2010. Feel free to comment on whether you liked it or not, or if you like turnips, or if you want to see more of these posts, or simply to say hello.

Thomas Keller is a Genius

I might not be stating anything new here, but Thomas Keller writes one fine cookbook. I’ve never eaten at any of his restaurants. So, instead, I faithfully wait for each of his books to come to me. Ad Hoc the restaurant as a temporary restaurant, sort of an experiment in family-style dining while they were designing their next big project. Everybody loved it, so they never closed. And now they have a fantastic cookbook. When my friends and I got a look at Ad Hoc at Home, there was no disagreement: This was the choice for our next cookbook-themed potluck.

Keller is known for his respect for food, and his attention to precision and detail. And he does describe things very, very carefully in these books. Some people tell me that his books fall into the “coffee table cookbook” category: They look pretty, but nobody actually cooks from them. Now, that may be true of “Under Pressure” — after all, few home cooks have all that sous vide equipment handy — but his other books are totally usable. I love my Bouchon book, for example, and there are definitely several favorite recipes in there we make all the time at home. Based on last night’s meal, I think Ad Hoc will be similar.

The first recipe I saw when I opened the book was for Buttermilk Fried Chicken. I’ve never made fried chicken. Oh, I’ve eaten a lot of it, growing up in Alabama. Up here in Boston, I go to Highland Kitchen, which has incredible chicken, although only on Monday nights. And I’ve heard good things about the offerings at Trina’s Starlite Lounge. But could I do it at home and make it as good as Highland’s?

The rest of the meal came together rapidly: One guest contributed banana bread pudding, and I made the caramel ice cream to accompany it. Other guests brought spare ribs, cole slaw, and delicious whipped garlic potatoes. Things turned out perfectly. Even the novice cooks produced seriously excellent food, and the preparations we wound up with even looked almost as good as the ones in the cookbook – something that’s hard under normal circumstances, but is extra difficult when you’re making a recipe for the first time.

24 hours, a bottle and a half of vegetable oil, a quart of buttermilk, and several thousand calories later, our house still smells like fried chicken. And it’s kind of awesome.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Unfortunately, this is the only photo we have. We even fried some rosemary for a garnish and put it all on a nice platter. But we all scarfed it too fast to get anymore photos.
We might not make the fried chicken all that often – it is a huge production after all – but this cookbook is definitely going into heavy rotation in the Bookdwarf kitchen playlist.

More photos of the making of the chicken and ice cream can be seen here.